With the 2023 NFL Draft set for next month, some of college football’s best players have arrived at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to showcase their skills at the league’s annual Scouting Combine—an event that can make or break a player’s draft capital.
On Thursday, the league welcomed defensive linemen and linebackers to participate and show off their agility in shuttle drills, explosiveness in the broad and vertical jumps—and perhaps most important to us—their speed in the 40-yard dash, leaving us wondering if any future NFL stars could hack it as track & field all-stars instead.
Georgia defensive lineman Nolan Smith is one of the league’s most intriguing prospects. Smith, who can play both end and tackle positions, wowed scouts with his 40-yard dash time at the combine.
Smith, who didn’t finish his final college season due to a pec injury, ran the 40-yard in a blazing 4.39 seconds. For reference, the record time in the dash is 4.22, set back in 2017 by wide receiver John Ross—a time that was later equaled by a little-known runner named Usain Bolt. Smith did not participate in the field drills, but his head-turning 40 time was more than enough to get him noticed.
The NFL has been producing some eye-popping speeds the past few seasons, with 36 players surpassing 21 miles per hour (that’s a hair under a 3-minute mile, for comparison) during the 2022 season. The fastest of these runs, 22.11 miles per hour, was set by wide receiver Parris Campbell of the Indianapolis Colts, who clocked the fifth-fastest time since 2016.
That time in 2016? A blazing 23.34 miles per hour, set by none other than Tyreek Hill. Hill, who has played for the Chiefs and Dolphins, is frequently compared to track stars like Bolt for his lightning-fast speed—even earning himself the nickname “cheetah.” Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, who ran track at Wisconsin, got up to 22 miles per hour twice during the league’s season.
Some NFL stars have also attempted to take their speed to the track. Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf made headlines in 2020 when he reached a top speed of 22.64 miles per hour while chasing down cornerback Budda Baker after an interception. To show off even more speed, Metcalf, a college track star at Ole Miss, ran in the USATF Golden Games 100m dash in a bid to join Team USA in the 2020 Olympics. He fell short of his goal, finishing 15th of 17 but still impressed doubters with his time of 10.37 seconds.
So while we likely won’t see any league stand-outs going toe to toe with Fred Kerley any time soon, there’s no way around it: these dudes are fast.
Laura Ratliff is a New York City-based writer, editor, and runner. Laura’s writing expertise spans numerous topics, ranging from travel and food and drink to reported pieces covering political and human rights issues. She has previously worked at Architectural Digest, Bloomberg News, and Condé Nast Traveler and was most recently the senior editorial director at TripSavvy. Like many of us, Laura was bitten by the running bug later in life, after years of claiming to “hate running.” Her favorite marathon is Big Sur.